Essex-raised, Berlin-based singer and songwriter Gemma Ray has announced her new album ‘Psychogeology’ for release on February 15th 2019 via Bronzerat.
While others have, in recent years, helped popularise the term ‘psychogeography’ – a flâneur-like urge to explore the urban environment and its impact, consciously and subconsciously – Ray is drawn to the time-defying, time-defining outcrops that exist beyond our cities, and the manner in which this natural architecture underlines “how small we are, how trivial the most unsurmountable of our personal problems”.
The first glimpse at this self-produced new album is the reverb-drenched, 70s pop swagger of “Blossom Crawls”, scattered with echoes of Fleetwood Mac, which tackles a specific incident – a panic attack in the back of a taxi – her overwrought sensation that “Blossom crawls back into its buds” transformed into an affirmative resolution to “put a stop to its cruel tricks/ Gonna get there first to soften the hit”.
The word ‘rock’ has many connotations, but for Gemma Ray, the most important is probably not the one you’d expect most musicians to nurse. The Essex-raised, Berlin-based singer and songwriter clings to its most fundamental definition, insisting that, when she takes to the road – as she did almost unremittingly in the year following the release of her last album, 2016’s acclaimed ‘The Exodus Suite’ – she find the time to explore the landscape that touring can reveal. In Ray's world, the word conjures up images of the grand, twisted formations she’s seen while travelling the world, whether in the immense deserts of the US or among the carved mountains of New Zealand.
It’s the development of Ray’s emotional connection to such spectacular scenes that lies deep at the heart of ‘Psychogeology’, which, in keeping with its subject matter, represents Ray’s most ambitious release to date, its intricate arrangements and textures – including choral and string arrangements – the result of almost a year’s labour determinedly hewn from rare periods of time available between tours. The album, she says, is “an ode to the majesty of landscape, the enormity of nature and time, and the inevitability of every human life eventually forming a minuscule part of further landscapes.”
This heartfelt eighth album was recorded in part at Ray’s own studio in Berlin’s old mint by the River Spree, but mainly by Ingo Krauss at Candy Bomber, buried deep within the Nazi-constructed buildings of the city’s former airport, Tempelhof. These historic edifices witnessed Ray emerge from beneath the shadows of her influences to claim her own unique musical territory, her voice still soaring, despite its naturally lugubrious tenor, and bathed in the ageless glamour of her tremolo guitar, one that, strikingly, she sometimes plays with a gleaming steel knife. Her mood is now emancipated, rising above the grim minutiae that can sometimes dominate daily life, and she’s certainly had struggles to confront: an on-again, off-again illness has, in recent years, left her occasionally debilitated.
That said, Ray is rarely less than busy, and has repeatedly found herself collaborating with other admiring artists. She’s worked alongside, among others, Sparks (who in fact produced Ray covering their own songs), Suicide’s Alan Vega (their collaboration turned out to be one of his final recordings), Howe Gelb (Giant Sand), Thomas Wydler (The Bad Seeds) and arranger Fiona Brice. She was also invited to perform with Potsdam, Germany’s legendary Filmorchester Babelsberg, and this December she’ll join them again, this time with Peaches, Einstürzende Neubauten’s Jochen Arbeit and other special guests as part of The Can Projekt, a celebration of ground-breaking ‘krautrock ‘pioneers Can taking place at Berlin’s famed Volksbühne Theatre.
‘Psychogeology’, however, documents Ray’s troubles, yet simultaneously expresses with zeal the ways in which she’s surmounted them to find her place in the world. “For me,” Ray concludes confidingly, “making a record is always in the end about celebrating my personal downsides or weaknesses and turning them into something that brings me joy, but hopefully speaks to others. Much of this one was written while reflecting during relentless touring and road trips, and these songs are devoted to the connection between emotion and landscape, how they mirror each other and feed off one another, as well as how this association inspires memories of loved ones.”
It’s a mindset crystallised on the phantasmagorical, unfettered title track, a cantata “where landscape breathes life into make believe”, leading Ray to a crucial, redeeming dénouement: “There are things that laid down heavy on me/ But now I'm free.” On the timeless ‘Psychogeology’ – a journey that celebrates triumphs over tribulations – Gemma Ray offers rock for all ages.
The newly announced dates are:
Feb 28: Ramsgate Music Hall
Mar 1: Leek, Foxlowe Arts Centre
Mar 2: Hebden Bridge, Trades Club
Mar 3: Newcastle, Cobalt
Mar 5: London, Dalston Victoria